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Narcolepsy facts

  • Narcolepsy is a chronic disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms include excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS), sudden loss of muscle tone (cataplexy), distorted perceptions (hypnagogic hallucinations), inability to move or talk (sleep paralysis), disturbed nocturnal sleep, and automatic behavior.
  • Narcolepsy usually begins in teenagers or young adults and affects both sexes equally.
  • Abnormalities in the structure and function of a particular group of nerve cells in the brain called hypocretin neurons are thought to play a role in the development of narcolepsy.
  • The diagnosis of narcolepsy is based on a clinical evaluation, specific questionnaires, sleep logs or diaries, and the results of sleep laboratory tests (polysomnography and multiple sleep latency test).
  • Treatment options for narcolepsy include drug and behavioral modification therapies and disease-specific education of the patient and family members. The treatment is individualized, depending on the types and severity of the symptoms, the life conditions of the patients, and the specific goals of therapy.
  • Optimal management usually takes weeks to months to achieve and requires continued communication among the physician, patient, family members, and others.
  • Alerting medications are used for the treatment of excessive daytime sleepiness. Amphetamines and methylphenidate (Ritalin) are general CNS stimulants that decrease sleepiness and improve alertness. Modafinil (Provigil) and armondafinil (Nuvigil) have alerting effects similar to those of the traditional stimulants but has less undesirable side effects.
  • Anticataplectic medications are used to treat cataplexy, hypnagogic hallucinations, and sleep paralysis. Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) are often effective in controlling cataplexy, but also frequently produce side effects that limit their use.
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are also useful in the treatment of cataplexy and their side effects are milder. Sodium oxybate (Xyrem) is a medication with anticataplectic effects that also improves disturbed nocturnal sleep.
  • Behavioral approaches to treating narcolepsy include establishing a structured sleep-wake cycle and planned naps, and involve diet, exercise, and occupational, marriage, and family counseling.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/25/2015

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Narcolepsy - Treatments Question: What was the treatment for you narcolepsy?
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Narcolepsy - Excessive Daytime Sleepiness Question: If you've been diagnosed with narcolepsy, please discuss your experience with daytime sleepiness.
Narcolepsy - Hypnagogic Hallucinations Question: Describe what a hypnagogic hallucination is like for you, a friend, or relative.
Narcolepsy - Muscle Control Question: Relate your observations of cataplexy (loss of muscle control) in a friend or relative.

Sleep Paralysis in Narcolepsy

Sleep paralysis is a feeling of being conscious but unable to move. It occurs when a person passes between stages of wakefulness and sleep. During these transitions, you may be unable to move or speak for a few seconds up to a few minutes. Some people may also feel pressure or a sense of choking. Sleep paralysis may accompany other sleep disorders such as narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is an overpowering need to sleep caused by a problem with the brain's ability to regulate sleep.